The emotional pain of losing a dog is just as strong, and just as real, as the emotional pain we suffer when we lose a human loved one. So the same five stages of grief that we must pass through when we lose a friend or family member apply when learning how to cope when your dog dies. Old Dog Care Guide offers a heartfelt recount of one person’s progress through the stages of grief when she lost her 14 year old Golden Retriever, Jake. Here is an excerpt:
Whether your dog is at the end of a long life or dies unexpectedly, the grieving is no easier either way. Allow yourself to go through the five stages of grief as you cope when your dog dies.
The five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) were identified in 1969 by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. In the days after Jake was euthanized I don’t remember ever being in denial.
I didn’t feel the second phase, anger, either. The life expectancy of a golden retriever is 10-12 years. I was fortunate to have Jake longer than average. And because I had him so long, bargaining wasn’t part of my grieving process. But I can see how people who suffer a loss of pets could easily do this. It’s that negotiation with a higher being.
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No, I skipped over steps two and three and landed head-first in Phase Four: depression. I was so very sad. I was so very lonely. I’d heard the expression “heavy heart” before but I didn’t understand until then that it is more than an expression- it is a physical feeling. My heart actually felt heavy.
It took quite a while before I could walk in the house and not expect him to be lying on his bed in the middle of the family room. My acceptance (the fifth stage of grieving) began when I received his ashes in a wooden box, wrapped in a blue velvet bag, a plaque with his name and dog print and a certificate that said, “I’ll be waiting for you at the end of the rainbow bridge.” But that was just the beginning of this stage. I placed his ashes on the bookshelf in his favorite room – the family room. I passed them each morning when I went to work. Sometimes I’d touch the velvet bag and say, “Bye buddy.” Other times I’d just say goodbye to him.
As those days when I would say good-bye became less frequent I knew I was on the path to healing. And six months later I was ready for another dog.
When it’s time to say goodbye to your best furry friend, allow yourself to pass through the five stages of grief. There is no one timeline that fits everyone. Only you will know when you are ready to advance to the next stage. Whatever you do, do not allow anyone to marginalize the pain you feel as figure out how to cope when your dog dies.